Meeting Charlie

Our journey to Charlie was certainly more challenging than we ever imagined. I naively thought pregnancy would be a fairly standard journey, maybe some discomfort and swelling, and a painful yet unremarkable birth (in the scheme of births). I was rudely shocked and ended up on the toughest journey I have ever experienced.

Before I start, I want to acknowledge that I am very aware that people go through much tougher journeys than ours. While our experience was the most challenging thing I have ever been through, I am sure it doesn’t come close to what others have experienced.

After a miscarriage in May of 2020, likely due to an ectopic pregnancy (the scans weren’t conclusive about whether the pregnancy was ectopic or not), we were lucky enough to fall pregnant with Charlie very quickly, in July 2020.

The first few weeks were great, but bang on six weeks, the nausea and vomiting hit me like a tonne of bricks. I had major aversions to most foods, vomited almost every day and lost 6 kgs in 6 weeks. This lasted until well into the second trimester and was only manageable with daily medication.

At about 20 weeks, after weeks of the most intense fatigue (nodding off while driving to work was a big wakeup call that this was more than standard pregnancy fatigue), I was diagnosed with an iron deficiency and put on daily iron supplements. My mental health at this point wasn’t wonderful. I was struggling to do even the most basic daily activities and was feeling defeated that my body wasn’t coping with pregnancy. Further bloods showed my iron levels were dropping further, so I was given an iron infusion early in the third trimester.

After the iron infusion and switching to different anti-nausea medication, I had a small window of feeling OK somewhere towards the end of the second trimester and the start of the third trimester. I was still experiencing the most intense leg and feet cramps every night, though. The list of things I tried to prevent the cramps starts pretty standard and moves towards strange and desperate: magnesium vitamins, magnesium cream, Epsom salt baths, hydralyte before bed, feet and leg massage, wearing lace-up shoes and socks all day every day, pickle juice (yes, the juice from tinned pickles, totally disgusting), and putting bars of soap at the foot of my bed (an old wives tale apparently).

33 weeks to the day, and things took a scary turn. I had been experiencing swollen ankles for a few weeks at this point, but this evening was different – the swelling was much worse in my left leg, my leg was hot, and I had a pain behind my knee. I was hospitalised for two nights for a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and started on daily clexane injections to manage the blood clot risk. Funnily enough, for someone who is needle phobic, these daily needles don’t even rate when I think back on the most challenging parts of my pregnancy. Thank goodness for my husband Grant, because there was no way I could have given those injections to myself.

These injections also created a few complexities when it came to delivery time. The injections were designed to manage the risk of a blood clot. However, this also meant I was at higher risk of bleeding during delivery. If I wanted or needed an epidural, this couldn’t happen with clexane in my system, and if I needed a c-section, this would need to be under a general anaesthetic if clexane was in my system. It was recommended that I have an induction closer to my due date so that we could control the timing of labour, stopping the clexane a safe period of time prior to the induction.

Who knows if it was the brief hospital stay, the clexane injections, having to start maternity leave early, or the sexy compression socks I was now wearing 24 hours a day, but things ramped up from here.

At my 34 week scan, our OB mentioned that bub was posterior, and his head was in a very deflexed position deep in my pelvis. She did mention that he could move, but if he stayed the way he was, a natural delivery might not be possible. I was so uncomfortable at this point that I was almost begging her to do the induction there and then. I was having a lot of pre-labour signs, and our OB told me if bub hadn’t arrived by 37 weeks, we could talk induction. She told me I needed to cross my legs and hold him in there until at least 36 weeks.

By now, I couldn’t get comfortable sitting or standing, so I was doing a lot of kneeling on all fours. I was getting up 10 -14 times a night to go to the toilet and was still getting the most crippling foot and leg cramps.

35 weeks + 5 days, and I had been having quite bad lower back pain for a few days. I had also been getting mild cramping, lots of Braxton hicks and a lot of mucus discharge. Grant had work drinks on this day, and I was going to drop him off so that he could have a few drinks. My cramps this morning were intense enough that I decided to try and time them to see if there was any pattern. They lasted about 1-2 minutes at a time and came between 6-10 minutes apart. There was only one super intense one that caused me to stop talking. The cramping started to ease off, and I wanted Grant to enjoy himself, so I said I was fine and encouraged him to head to drinks. He decided to drive himself, though, just in case.

Mum was coming over for lunch while Grant was out for the afternoon. At 1 o’clock on the dot, mum rang the doorbell just as I stood up from the toilet. As I got up, water gushed everywhere – eek! I was pretty sure it wasn’t wee because I had just been to the toilet, I have never known a wee to ‘gush’ out like that, and there was also a very distinct smell – if you know, you know. I called mum from the toilet and told her to use her keys to let herself in.

One thing I wish someone had warned me about prior was HOW MUCH FLUID THERE IS!! I naively put on one maternity pad, thinking that would get me through a few hours, but in less than a minute, it was flooded, and I was dripping fluid all over my house.

Given I was only 35+5 weeks, the hospital advised me to come in. I called Grant away from his work drinks (lucky he was only two drinks deep), and we headed up to the hospital. At the hospital, Grant dropped me at the front door to head in while he went to find a park. I toddled in, leaving a trail of fluid all down the hallway. After pressing the buzzer for entry into the birthing suites, I was waiting for a minute or two for them to buzz me in – in this short amount of time, I had created a small pool at the door. When Grant arrived after parking the car, he didn’t need anyone to show him where I had gone. He just needed to follow the trail of water. Did I mention HOW MUCH FLUID THERE IS?!

At the hospital, the midwives confirmed it was my waters that had broken, and I was admitted as a patient. A term used to describe my situation was PPROM – ‘preterm, premature rupture of membranes (where your waters break prior to the onset of labour and prior to 37 weeks gestation). Anyway, fluid continues coming out of me for hours, but nothing else progresses.

As soon as my waters broke, I felt an instant release of the pressure in my pelvis and back and the cramping all but stopped. Some monitoring is completed on bub, and we settle in and try to relax and get some rest. I am also in a very fortunate situation regarding the timing of my clexane injections. Given my waters had broken and delivery is somewhat imminent (one way or another), my clexane injection that
night is withheld, and this allows a safe gap between the last clexane injection and whatever is to come for the birth. Nothing has changed come 9 or 10 pm, so Grant heads home to get one last good nights sleep, and I have some medication to ease the mild cramps and help me sleep.

Not much sleeping happens, but I rest as much as I can.

The next morning about 9 am my OB arrives and recommends that we start an induction (via syntocinon drip) given labour hasn’t started and my waters had broken the day before (to avoid infection caused by having broken waters for an extended period). Prior to starting the induction, my OB checks and I am already 3cm dilated and fully effaced – not a bad start! I am warned that once the induction starts, things might ramp up really quickly, and be prepared for a fairly intense experience. The external monitors are attached to my belly to monitor how bub copes with the induction, and the midwives leave us to ourselves for a while, just popping in every now and then to turn up the Pitocin drip to move things along.

Maybe an hour or two passes, and the contractions get a little stronger but nothing too intense. Grant is doing an amazing job of keeping me relaxed through every contraction, using the techniques from our hypnobirthing course. I feel really calm and in control and feel like I am handling everything really well. At around midday, my midwives start visiting much more frequently and are keeping a very close eye on the monitors. Bubs heart rate is dipping a bit more than they would like with each contraction. They get me to try laying in a range of different positions to see if this improves bubs heart rate, but it doesn’t help.

My OB pops back in, and apparently, she has been around the whole time, watching bubs heart rate on the monitors outside our room. The monitors are showing that bub isn’t happy, so our OB stops the induction to see if this helps bring his heart rate back up. My midwife completed another cervical check, and I am still at 3cm dilated. Bub is still in a posterior position, and his head is deflexed.

At this point, I am still feeling really calm and naively assuming things will be fine progressing as they are - bub might move, I can try moving some more, and things will resume as they were. The next thing I remember is our student midwife walking in with a surgical gown and asking me to put it on. She is followed in by our other midwife, who says, “no more food or drink for now, OK”. The penny drops – I am going to surgery for a c-section.

Our OB is next to come back into the room; “we need to get bub out; about 20 minutes and the operating room will be available” – not only was I going to surgery, but I was going to surgery, like, now.

This is where the timeline and the details start to get quite fuzzy. I go from totally calm to full-blown panic in 0.1 seconds. Tears start, and I am shaking and shivering uncontrollably. A number of different Doctors, nurses and other staff come in and out with different pieces of paper for me to read and sign, taking blood, asking to see in my mouth (checking for caps and crowns on my teeth and the grade of my airway in case I end up needing to be intubated, Grant later informs me), and asking a bunch of questions I answered completely on autopilot.

It was almost an out of body experience where I could hear myself answering their questions, but I was no longer emotionally or mentally present and seemed to have no control over the words coming out of my mouth. Selfishly, I was more scared for myself at this moment than I was for our baby.

I trusted that bub would be fine and understood that a c-section was the absolute best and the only way to keep him safe, but I was terrified for myself – I was about to get a needle in my spine and then lay on a theatre bed and get cut wide open. I had no idea how I would handle this. There is a one-word answer to how I would handle this – Grant. Grant was the only thing holding me together at this stage.

I am wheeled down the corridor on a wheelchair, half-wearing one of those flimsy surgical gowns, with no idea what parts of me the gown is actually covering. When we get to the operating theatre doorway, Grant is stopped at the door, and I continue to be wheeled through. At this moment, I have no idea if Grant is allowed to come in or not, and the sobbing starts. The room is FULL of people in masks, surgical gowns and caps.

We were warned there would be a lot of people in the room, including a bunch of people on standby for bub in case he needed extra assistance on delivery, given he is premmie.

I am told not to touch anything blue – EVERYTHING in the room is blue!! I am moved up onto the operating bed, basically naked, still sobbing and surrounded by so many people, and none of those people was Grant. The most lovely theatre nurse (I can still see her face so clearly in my memory) puts her arm around me to comfort me and explains that Grant will be allowed in, but they just needed to prep the room first.

Grant comes in and is told the same thing “Do not touch ANYTHING that is blue... but here, you can sit on this blue chair...”. This brings us a few giggles between the tears. As I nervously glance around the room, I am greeted by so many gentle smiling eyes (no actual smiles, because masks). I felt like I could see the sympathy in their eyes as I sat there naked and crying.

An assisting OB introduces himself, and amongst the chaos in my mind, I recognise his name – he is the same OB that delivered my brother and me. I awkwardly announce this to him and the whole room (as if he would remember), which in hindsight is comical and embarrassing.

It is time to begin, and now is the moment I am most terrified for – a needle into my spine. Surprisingly, it was practically painless. I felt the sting of the local anaesthetic needle and then felt some pressure, but that was all. The spinal block worked instantly – my legs go warm and numb, like the most intense pins and needles you have ever felt in your life. This was such an awful sensation. I hysterically exclaim that I couldn’t feel my legs anymore (duh)...Grant had to remind me that was the point - haha. I was still shaking uncontrollably and felt so so cold. Just as I thought they were going to start cutting me open, I panicked and said, “wait, I don’t think I am numb yet!”. Someone kindly explained to me that they had already started and had been poking me with sharp instruments to confirm I was numb.

Prior to the surgery, I was told that a c-section is quite quick, and I would have my baby very soon after it was started. The surgery felt like it was going on forever. Grant was the most amazing support, taking me on a trip down memory lane and reminding me about every detail of our wedding day to distract me from what was going on.

Every now and then, my focus from Grant was broken, and I could hear a lot of muttering back and forth between the Doctors. One comment I remember hearing is, “I am so glad we decided to do it this way” (as in, via c-section). I could feel so much pressure and pulling in my abdomen, and my head and shoulders were literally sliding around at the top of the bed from all of the pushing and pulling to get bub out of my pelvis. I found out afterwards that bub was so stuck it took two OBs to pull him out the top while a midwife pushed him up and out from below (yes, up through, between my legs).

After what felt like forever of pushing and pulling, multiple people in the room were congratulating us. I was so confused because I still couldn’t see or hear a baby. Our baby had been born, but he wasn’t breathing. Rather than being placed onto my chest, he was whisked off to a little table in the room and was given some resuscitation to help him breathe. He had an Apgar score of 3 initially (not good), but this improved fairly quickly! While bub was getting some oxygen, Grant cut the cord. Funny side note – it wasn’t until a while later that Grant and I realised the cord must have already been cut when Charlie was delivered, and Grant just cut that cord shorter. It is a funnier story, though, if you imagine me with an extendable umbilical cord allowing bub to be moved halfway across the room while still attached to my insides.

Thankfully, Charlie didn’t need too much help breathing, and we met soon after when he was placed on my chest for a first cuddle. I was in so much shock that it wasn’t quite the magical mum-meets-bub moment you imagined. I don’t know if I said or did much. I just stared at this tiny, very bruised little boy in my arms. I was still shaking uncontrollably, and the thing I do remember repeatedly saying to the theatre nurse was, “this is a lot”.

Charlie was incredibly bruised and squashed from a very rough delivery – he was dark blue, not because of a lack of oxygen, but because of the intense bruising. His face was bruised, his eyes were bruised, and even his little tongue was bruised. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the ‘golden hours’ of uninterrupted skin to skin time following delivery as Charlie needed some extra special care and attention. For being four weeks early, he was a decent size of 2.87kgs and 47cm long.

The details from here get even fuzzier. A combination of the pain medication and the shock has left me with huge vacant gaps in the next 24 hours. I was stitched up and taken to recovery, where I experienced the most intense and uncontrollable shaking and shivering I have ever felt. To help, I was wrapped in a cool ‘space blanket’ (my word for this, not theirs) that pumped warm air onto me / into the blanket for warmth. I should have gotten its correct name as I wouldn’t mind one of these for bedtime in winter. I had to spend an extended amount of time in recovery as my heart rate kept dropping too low. Between the intense cold, shivering, numb legs and torso, the faint/dizzy / floating feeling, and the alarm of the heart rate monitor going off, I was genuinely scared if I would survive, which sounds very dramatic, but in the moment that is what was going through my mind. The spinal block was still working enough to leave my legs totally numb and unable to move, but it was wearing off enough to reveal the excruciating pain associated with a fresh abdominal wound. I kept thinking, “this is it, I am never going to walk again”. I have no idea where or what Grant and Charlie were up to while this was happening, but I hope they were having some precious cuddles.

The first night was the absolute foggiest part of our stay, and the only thing I do remember was when my bed broke (the part that lets you press a button to adjust the bed up and down – pretty critical after a spinal block and abdominal surgery). It took four nurses plus Grant to coordinate getting a second hospital bed to fit into our room and move me (still hooked up to a drip, catheter in and unable to move) from one bed to another (all while Charlie was in his little crib, in the ensuite of the room with the door closed because that’s the only way we could fit all the beds into the room). Grant made phone calls to the family, and I think I was in and out of sleep for most of the evening. Charlie looked so battered and bruised, and his face was so squished that we didn’t want to name him yet because we couldn’t really tell what he would look like. We also didn’t share any photos of him with family yet because he really didn’t look well, and we didn’t want that to be the first memory for everyone. Thankfully come morning, the bruising on his face had already improved so much, and we settled on his perfect name to match his perfect little face – Charlie James Minns.

We stayed in the hospital for ten nights all up. Charlie slept down the hall in the special care nursery because he needed a little bit of extra care, including a nasogastric tube for feeds and some time under UV lights to help with his jaundice. The pain from the c-section was incredibly intense for the first 24-48 hours, even with lots of pain relief around the clock.

After 48 or so hours, it seemed to dramatically improve and was manageable with the pain relief provided. An infection of my c-section wound and weight loss for Charlie slowed down our discharge a little. We were allowed to visit Charlie in the special care nursery as much as we wanted and could take him into our room between feeds for cuddles.
While Charlie’s birth was totally shocking and quite a traumatic experience for us, this was in no way a reflection on the care or decisions of the doctors and midwives. We felt informed and supported at every step of the way, and no decision was made without our informed consent.

Our OB was the most fantastic person to have on our team and visited us almost every day of our extended hospital stay. The shock of everything and the side effects of the pain medication left me feeling disconnected from the experience and like I had missed Charlie’s birth (maybe a necessary self-preservation mechanism) and his first 24 hours. I would give anything to be able to somehow watch the experience back or replay the events of the day, so I could try to take more of the experience in
and piece together all of the missing details. We certainly didn’t get the birth we had prepared for, but what we did get was a delivery and recovery that kept us both safe and alive.

After 11 days in the hospital, we headed home as a trio and started navigating our new normal of sleep deprivation and unconditional love.

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